It wasn’t the first hut with flush toilets. (That was Greenleaf.) Nor was it the first hut to boast fine views. (Take your pick on that score.)
But AMC’s Mizpah Spring Hut, which opened 50 years ago in June at a former shelter site of the same name, was the first AMC hut to see several notable mid-1960s innovations in design and construction.
Take, for example, the extreme sturdiness of the hut, built to withstand winds of 200 miles per hour from its perch at 3,777 feet on the shoulder of Mount Pierce, in the White Mountain National Forest. U.S. Forest Service officials, whose approval was required, were aware of the record-setting 231 mph gust on nearby Mount Washington three decades prior and called for the elevated standard. Likewise, seven steel arches were incorporated into the building’s frame, allowing the roof to withstand 200-pound snow loads. As for the wood-and-stone exterior and the graceful lines, those were chosen to help the hut meld with its surroundings.
Mizpah was the first AMC hut construction project to rely primarily on helicopter transport when ferrying building materials to the site, an innovation that saved both time and money. It was also the first multistory hut, with a second-floor sitting room and library housing books and board games. The upstairs included a drying room for wet clothes as well.
The mid-’60s was an opportune time for a new hut in the White Mountains. Overnight hut visitation had set a record in 1960, and the number climbed another 34 percent, to 2,043 guests, the following year, according to Hut Construction Committee Chairman John Hitchcock, writing in the December 1965 issue of Appalachia. Outdoor recreation was on an accelerated trajectory, and club leaders felt a duty to help meet demand and to manage hikers’ needs while diminishing their impacts on natural resources. U.S. Forest Service officials recognized both the public need and AMC’s ability to respond to it, and they encouraged club leaders to build two new huts, one south of Mount Washington (Mizpah) and one to the north. (The latter plan, to build a hut at Sphinx Col, was not carried out.)
Two names dominate accounts of Mizpah’s construction, a complex challenge, given the site’s backcountry location: the late Hut System Manager George Hamilton and the Assistant Hut System Manager Bruce Sloat. Writing in the same issue of Appalachia, Benjamin Stein, Mizpah’s architect, praised the pair for their skill in seeing the project through: “With the wonderful cooperation of the Committee, and [Hamilton and Sloat], the transition through working drawings to construction was so smooth that the work could have been proceeding by the side of the road or in the backyard….”
Mizpah bridged an important gap in the chain of huts. It effectively joined the earlier huts with those of the Western Division, allowing for a welcome stopover. Hamilton recalled the significance of the new hut during a 25th anniversary celebration, telling The Mountain Ear newspaper in 1990, “Those of us who’ve been around for a while know it was a bit of a poke from Lakes to Zealand: 13 miles over the Crawford Path and the A-Z Trail.”
“It was an interesting and challenging project for both George and myself,” Sloat told the Ear, calling the building of Mizpah “probably one of the highlights of my life.”
Mizpah isn’t the only hut observing a significant anniversary in 2015. Lakes of the Clouds celebrates its 100th year this season. Four guided Lodge-to-Hut Adventures visiting both Lakes and Mizpah are slated for this summer.